When it comes to rally games the first thought always goes to the Dirt series by Codemasters. It's been the benchmark for some years, all without the razzle-dazzle of a license for the official World Rally Championship (WRC).
That's where the aptly named WRC series comes in, and we're now up to number 7. WRC 7 is the official game of the World Rally Championship, and while it's perhaps not quite on par with Dirt 4, it's pretty good in its own right.
Assuming you're a fan of the WRC or just going sideways in general.
Like feeling the dirt hit your face
One of the benefits to having a license is that WRC 7 looks like the very sport it is portraying. Official rally stages, official drivers, official teams, and cars. You're getting three divisions, too: WRC, WRC 2 and Junior WRC.
It's a blessing in one regard but a curse to folks who are perhaps looking for something more, like you'd get from Dirt. This is WRC rallying only, for better or worse. If you're a fan, definitely for the better.
The game looks really nice, as you might hope. The cars all look sharp and realistically recreated in all their sponsor-filled glory. Better still is how they get dirty and damaged as you rattle along the country roads. Your tires will wear, if you hit a tree you may cause performance-diminishing damage, or worse.
The atmosphere inside WRC 7 perfectly captures the championship and its array of settings. You'll be driving at dawn, at noon, at night, in rain, snow, on tarmac and gravel, in the outback of Australia or Barcelona city center. Every different location has a unique challenge and you'll need to master them all in your quest to become the World Rally Champion.
And one thing I particularly like: If the electronics on the car fail, you can't hear the co-driver. Without electronics, you have no headset. Brilliant attention to detail.
Rise up and become a champion
The single-player career mode follows exactly the sort of path you'd expect it to follow. You start at the bottom in Junior WRC, signing a contract from a choice of three with different teams that have different objectives. Your job is to meet those objectives, not only because you're racing to win, but because team morale will go up, you'll keep your job and ultimately end up with better offers in the future.
As you progress through the career mode at the end of each season you'll be given new opportunities based on your performance. If you did well you'll start seeing offers from better teams, or more importantly, teams in higher classes. The end goal is to rise to the main WRC category and become champion.
It's linear and it lacks any kind of depth, as if you're good enough you'll be able to get into the WRC class after two seasons. There's also not a great deal of interaction with the team, something Dirt 4 does better. There, you're setting up and managing your team. Here you just get in and drive.
That's not necessarily a bad thing for everyone, but if you were hoping for an immersive WRC experience it may leave you feeling short.
Challenging, but sometimes for the wrong reasons
WRC 7 presents you two main ways to go about your business. You can either set up for a fun time or you can go the whole hog and get as realistic as possible. It supports racing wheels, fully manual transmission, fully automatic or a middle of the road semi-auto setting where you can shift up or down yourself at any time.
It's also suitably challenging to newcomers or veterans alike. If you're expecting to jump in and be destroying the field straight away, you'll probably be disappointed. The different circuits all have their own unique aspects to keep you on your toes, and the different surfaces, weather and time of day all add to that.
And driving through the trees in the darkness while using the cockpit camera is terrifying. Incredible, but terrifying. One tree is all it takes to ruin your day.
I've never driven a rally car, so I can't really say "yes, it's realistic" but what I can say is that sometimes the handling of the cars feels artificially hampered to make you struggle more than you should be.
For example: Driving a Junior WRC car on a wet tarmac road leads to an almost impossible time trying to get around corners. It's Understeer City, population: you. You would get understeer on the real things (being front wheel drive and all), but not to the gliding-into-a-wall-at-every-turn extent you seem to get in WRC 7.
The external cameras are pretty annoying, too. I get what they're doing, they're adding motion to draw you into the action. You might like them, but I prefer not to have the car sucked towards the bottom of the screen as I'm going around a corner. And you can't turn this off, either.
Multiplayer and challenges
The career mode is authentic and will give you a good time, but it also lacks any real replay value. Once you've become WRC champion, maybe even a couple of times, you're going to get bored of it. That's where the multiplayer mode and challenges will come in.
Multiplayer is a fairly standard affair, with a variety of modes to jump into and take on the rest of the world. The main difference to any other racing game is that you won't be competing on the track, only on the timesheets. Which should at least eliminate the chances of being punted off at the first turn.
Challenges are specific stages selected by the developer that are only active for a short period but that implement a global leaderboard. It's a chance for everyone to show how good they are against the world without the need to jump into a multiplayer game.
WRC 7 also has its own in-game achievements and badges as well as the Xbox Live achievements. In both cases some are really easy to get, others will require more patience and practice.
The bottom line
If you're a fan of rallying, as I am, then you'll enjoy WRC 7 a lot. It's the only way to play the official championship, and there's plenty on offer for the fans. The career mode won't last forever, though, and there's not a lot of reason to replay it, but the authenticity is there.
It is, for the most part, a very good game. It looks nice, it's well presented and barreling through the forests of Scandinavia in a hatchback with 300 horse power is terrific fun. The problem is that there's no real spark for folks who aren't already fans of the WRC.
- Looks great.
- Decent single-player experience.
- Challenges and multiplayer keeps gameplay fresh
- A rewarding challenge.
- Handling artificially made worse at times.
- External camera movements are irritating.
- Lacks a spark for those not fans of the WRC.
The elephant in the room remains the Dirt series. For more casual fans there's much more on offer there albeit without the real-life licensing. It's got more modes, more vehicle types and ultimately, more longevity before you have to think about the multiplayer option. It also doesn't implement any artificially bad handling.
For the average person, Dirt 4 is still the rally game to get. For fans of the World Rally Championship, this is one for you. Go forth and be a champion.
Review conducted on Xbox One using a copy provided by the publisher.
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